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Legal analytics: to know them is to love them

Noel Peel

Written by

Noel Peel


June 3, 2021

Legal analytics is a science founded on the collection, organization, analysis, and reporting of virtually every aspect and input that goes into the practice of law. Beginning with simple time-tracking software in the 1980’s, legal analytics has dramatically expanded.

Legal analytics now ranges from sophisticated profitability analyses to applying artificial intelligence, language analytics and cognitive computing across huge databases of millions of reported cases, motions, briefs, trial and settlement results, cross-referenced by judge, attorneys, jurisdictions, issues addressed, phrases and keywords used, etc.

A recent survey of legal analytics usage revealed a number of interesting findings for law firms of all sizes. The 2020 survey explored a variety of areas regarding the adoption of legal analytics on both the “business” side (using them to manage the business more efficiently) and the “legal” side (using them to improve client results).

163 firms participated, 77% from among the largest 200 firms in the United States, with respondents from the following practice areas (in order of number of respondents):

  • Corporate and M&A
  • Intellectual property and technology
  • Federal civil practice
  • Labor and employment
  • Insurance
  • Capital markets and corporate governance
  • Product liability
  • Finance
  • Commercial transactions
  • Personal Injury

The survey generally found high satisfaction by those using legal analytics and that respondents expected to increase usage in the future.

More interesting for law firms considering getting into or expanding the use of legal analytics are the comparisons in the survey results between firms with access to legal analytics (70% of respondents) versus firms with no access to legal analytics (30%).

  • 90% of respondents with access believe legal analytics “make you a more effective lawyer,” versus 53% without access.
  • 81% of respondents with access believe use of legal analytics is “looked upon favorably by clients,” versus 36% without access.
  • 79% of respondents with access believe use of legal analytics will “create new opportunities in the legal profession,” versus 53% without access.
  • 66% of respondents with access believe it is “important” to have access, versus 35% of those without access.

The significant differences between users and non-users is striking. Many start-up and smaller law firms began using electronic spreadsheet programs to track their time in the 1980’s. As Microsoft’s Excel celebrates its 35th birthday (and seventh since its victory over Lotus 1-2-3), it is not surprising that many smaller law firms are still using fairly simple spreadsheet programs and only tracking a few performance indicators.

The key takeaway from the survey for smaller law firms is that if you are not using at least a basic level of legal analytics you are missing a real opportunity to improve your practice at every level, from results, to profitability, to employee and client satisfaction. A second important point is the very strong minority of respondents without access to legal analytics that still believe in their value. There is pent up demand for investment and improvement in this area by those working in non-user environments.

How to get started:

  • Have a discussion within your firm. Simply copy this article and see what your people informally say about the survey findings.
  • If there is an interest, ask your firm administrator to gather information and make a management presentation on the potential uses in your firm. The discussion should focus on opportunities for improvement.
  • Identify specific objectives. What is to be improved?
  • Obtain stakeholder buy-in. Engage attorneys, paralegals and key staff in identifying your firm’s Key Performance Indicators. They are not identical for each firm; your particular circumstances, management style, or firm structure may require emphasis on particular aspects.
  • See what your fellow professionals are saying.
  • Identify providers that may be able to help; you will have a long list, so quickly exclude providers that do not:

Congratulations, you now have “started!”

A procurement process has several distinct steps that are beyond the scope of this article, culminating in a successful onboarding to your new system. However, the longest journey begins with the first step, so “Bon Voyage!”

by Aline Martin O’Brien

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